Committee for the Protection of Journalists
When News Breaks Out, We Break In. Minute by Minute Report on Cameroon and Africa
New York, May 13, 2013--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the closure of an independent radio station on April 22 in retaliation for its broadcast of an interview that authorities said incited secessionism.
Local officials in the northwestern city of Bamenda indefinitely shut down the studios of private station Foundation Radio, local journalists and news reports said. The injunction, which was signed by Felix Nguele Nguele, the top official in Bamenda, and originated from the Cameroonian minister of communications, ordered the station to be shut down because of its repeated broadcasts that "incited secessionism," according to CPJ's review of the document.
News accounts reported that the station was shut down in reprisal for its March 25 morning talk show, called "Good Morning Bamenda Show," in which the host, Tikum Mbah Azonga, interviewed two guests from the outlawed Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), which calls for the secession of the English-speaking northwest and southwest provinces from the French-speaking remainder of Cameroon.
Azonga, who is also the station manager, told CPJ by email that the station did not in any way support secession or the SCNC.
Azonga told CPJ he went to the police three times for questioning and was asked to submit a copy of the recording of the program. "They were wondering how I, as a journalist they knew to be very responsible, could have allowed the SCNC to speak?" he said. Winifred Weregwe, administrator of the Fomunyoh Foundation, which runs the station, told CPJ that police also indicated they were sending the recording to the Ministry of Communications.
A January 2012 presidential decree granted the state-run National Communications Council broad regulatory authority to suspend news outlets, but since 2003, the government's Ministry of Communications has also summarily shut down at least 10 independent broadcasters in response to critical coverage, according to CPJ research.
"The actions of the Cameroonian government to silence Foundation Radio over one program illustrates how far the state will go to suppress news and information about the secessionist claims in the northwest part of the country," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "We call on authorities to allow Foundation Radio back on the air immediately."
Foundation Radio is run by the U.S.-based Fomunyoh Foundation. Its founder, Christopher Fomunyoh, has highlighted over the years the shortcomings of the political system under President Paul Biya as a Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa at the National Democratic Institute, according to local journalists.